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Dublin: 6°C Saturday 5 December 2020
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A day in the life of an Ultimate Fighting Championship athlete on fight week

We spent Tuesday in the company of UFC Dublin main-card fighter Nicolas Dalby.

_D8A1285 Nicolas Dalby Source: Dolly Clew

AS SOON AS the Ultimate Fighting Championship announced their return to Dublin for 24 October, Nicolas Dalby knew he had to be a part of it.

Having seen last year’s event in the Irish capital, the Danish welterweight was eager to be involved at UFC Fight Night 76, which takes place at the 3Arena on Saturday night.

“That last show looked crazy,” Dalby says. “I asked specifically to be on this fight card. I asked my manager if I could please fight here and he was able to get me on it — and on the main card as well, which I’m really excited about.”

Dalby’s clash with England’s Darren Till is the only bout on Saturday’s main card that doesn’t involve a fighter from Ireland, which is perhaps a nod from the UFC to the high expectations for this particular bout.

Dalby-vs-Till Source: Ultimate Fighting Championship

Dalby and Till are each competing in the UFC for only the second time this weekend — both men were victorious in their debuts in Brazil back in May — but their meeting has the ingredients to be a pretty spectacular contest, as Dalby pits his diverse brand of stand-up against Till’s explosive Muay Thai.

If you’re planning to tune in to Saturday’s live airing of UFC Fight Night 76 on Setanta Ireland or 3e, Dalby versus Till is the first bout you’ll see after the broadcast begins at 9pm. No fight is ever guaranteed to deliver, but this one is as close as you’ll get to a certainty when it comes to entertainment value. Taking their respective arsenals into account, you’re unlikely to be disappointed.

The majority of Irish fans probably won’t be familiar with Nicolas Dalby, but those who followed Cage Warriors will know him as the man who succeeded Cathal Pendred as the CWFC welterweight champion courtesy of a spectacular head-kick KO of Sergei Churilov last year.

KO Source: Cage Warriors Fighting Championship

We spent Tuesday in Dalby’s company in order to get an insight into what the life of a UFC athlete is like in the days leading up to what’s set to be the biggest fight of his career so far.

11.20am

Dalby, along with Tue Trnka — his coach at the Rumble Sports gym — arrives at Terminal 1 at Dublin Airport from Copenhagen. Having travelled all the way to Brazil from Denmark for his last fight, the two-hour flight on this occasion was far more palatable.

With a professional record of 14-0, Dalby’s first 12 fights all took place in his native Denmark. However, this will be his third in succession on foreign soil — an indication that his career is on an upward trajectory. Prior to joining the UFC, he successfully defended his Cage Warriors title against Mohsen Bahari in London.

Airport Nicolas Dalby (right) arrives at Dublin Airport with coach Tue Trnka. Source: The42.ie

Other members of Dalby’s team — including former UFC fighter Mats Nilsson — will arrive later in the week to lend a hand with cornering duties during this weekend’s fight.

Dalby and Trnka are greeted at Dublin Airport by a UFC representative, before a private car transports them to the Gibson Hotel. Despite being a stone’s throw from the 3Arena, the UFC have arranged a bus to take the fighters from the hotel to the venue on Saturday as a means of ensuring that all fighters arrive on time.

As soon as Dalby checks in at the hotel, he’s required to liaise immediately with members of UFC staff on site.

Dalby workout room Source: The42.ie

The organisation has taken over an entire floor of function rooms for the week, which are designated as their admin offices, medical rooms, media centre, filming and photography studios, workout rooms for fighters etc.

Dalby starts off by going through mandatory medical checks, before some brief photography and filming duties, including a segment with Irish comedian Jason Byrne.

Then it’s time to check his weight, before sitting through the unenviable task of signing his name to 140 event posters, which will end up in the hands of UFC fans.

Posters Source: The42.ie

Dalby’s initial weight-check showed that he’s at 194lbs — around 4.5lbs heavier than he would normally be at this stage on fight week, but still no cause for concern. This is his 15th professional fight so he knows what’s required to hit the mark.

As a welterweight, he can weigh no heavier than 171lbs by 4pm on Friday afternoon. Dropping 23lbs in the space of three days may seem excessive on first inspection, but there’s more to it than meets the eye.

On Thursday afternoon, just over 24 hours before he steps on the scales, Dalby will begin the process of shedding the pounds. Some fighters do so by using a sauna, others opt for a hot bath containing Epsom Salts. Dalby favours the latter.

Weigh Nicolas Dalby weighing in for his UFC debut in Brazil back in May. Source: Nicolas Dalby

While the more unpleasant aspect of the weight-cut won’t begin until Thursday, these few days preceding it are a key component. This is the water-loading phase, an essential element of the cut.

Dalby will drink nine litres of water on Tuesday and slightly more on Wednesday. The weight will subsequently fall off quite quickly when he begins his baths at around lunchtime on Thursday. The hot water and Epsom Salts combine to drain the excess water from his body.

His system will be enduring some dehydration by the time he reaches 171lbs on Friday afternoon, but once Dalby has officially weighed in, he can begin to refuel and prepare for his bout the following evening.

Screen Shot 2015-10-21 at 13.48.55 Nicolas Dalby cutting weight ahead of his final Cage Warriors title defence last November. Source: Instagram.com/CageWarriors

From the beginning of this month, the UFC has introduced a ban on intravenous rehydration (IV drips) being used after weigh-ins. The measure is part of the organisation’s new anti-doping programme, which is being steered by the United States Anti-Doping Agency. According to USADA, IV can be used to mask the presence of performance-enhancing drugs. If you don’t obey, the penalty could be a two-year suspension.

For some fighters competing this weekend in Dublin, this change in policy will represent a new challenge in relation to sufficiently replenishing their bodies before they compete. Dalby isn’t one of them, however. He has always chosen to rehydrate naturally, using distilled water and other sources of electrolytes.

The weight cut is generally regarded as the most undesirable part of a fighter’s life, but Dalby’s is quite reasonable compared to some of the other horror stories you sometimes hear of. He eats three light meals a day from Monday to Wednesday, as well as breakfast on Thursday, with the last 24 hours representing the final slog down the home straight.

Lunch Prawn salad for lunch at the Gibson Hotel. Source: The42.ie

“I’ve never felt like it hurts to cut weight,” Dalby says. “When I’m sitting in a bath tub and sweating, I don’t feel like I’m suffering. Maybe it’s because I see the weight cut as an access ticket for the fight, I don’t know, but it just has to be done.

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“There’s no way around it. You might as well make the best of it and get through it as easily as possible, instead of moaning about it. Get on with it or you can’t fight.”

If a fighter is unable to make weight on time, they’re generally given an additional two-hour buffer to do so. Should they fail again at that point, a percentage (usually 20%) is then deducted from their purse for the fight and given to their opponent. The opponent can refuse to take the fight, which seldom happens unless the fighter has missed weight by a particularly large amount.

_D8A0979 Nicolas Dalby during his reign as Cage Warriors champion. Source: Dolly Clew

2.00pm

Dalby has a light lunch of prawn salad but it’s a meal he’s been looking forward to. He’s been up since 6am and breakfast consisted of a banana and a small yogurt. After lunch, he spots his opponent entering the restaurant at the Gibson Hotel. He makes a beeline for Darren Till: “Darren, nice to meet you.”

Dalby always seeks to introduce himself to his opponent when the opportunity presents itself. On Saturday night, they won’t be exchanging pleasantries, but for now they’re merely two professional athletes in pursuit of the same goal. The respect is mutual.  

Afterwards, Dalby heads off to another one of the UFC’s rooms to try on the new Reebok kit for the first time. Since July, all UFC fighters are required to wear the company’s Reebok apparel and no other sponsors are permitted. As the only Dane currently competing in the UFC, Dalby is proud to be sporting the red-and-white flag on his kit. However, there’s been a mixed reaction to the deal overall.

Reebok Source: Instagram.com/DalbyMMA

According to the pay-scale that was released following the announcement of the Reebok deal, champions will be the biggest earners, receiving $40,000 per bout. At the opposite end of the spectrum, fighters with 1-5 bouts in the UFC — like Dalby — will be paid $2,500. It’s the high-profile fighters who are disgruntled, however.

“I can kind of see both sides of it. Some guys who have had a lot of fights in the UFC have built up a big sponsorship base, but then it seemed that this decision was made quite suddenly without the involvement of any of the fighters. From their point of view, if they’re going from earning $100,000 in sponsorship to $15,000, I can understand why they’re upset because that must suck,” Dalby explains.

“Personally, I signed with the UFC after it was disclosed that this deal was coming in, so for me it didn’t make any difference. I never got to experience having big sponsors who put in a lot of money, so for me it’s actually just nice not having to chase sponsors and stuff like that. I get my pay from Reebok, I get it on point and on time, so it’s pretty good for me. But I can see both sides.”

4.00pm

Next on Dalby’s agenda is a nap, before an interview for a media outlet back in Denmark.

7.00pm

Dinner Dinner in Dublin. Source: The42.ie

Dalby heads for Dublin city centre for his final meal of the day — crab salad, followed by cod and vegetables. Apart from snacking on some raw carrot and a protein bar after a workout later in the evening, that’s a wrap for his food intake for the day.

While he’s in town, Dalby enjoys one of Dublin’s most popular tourist attractions — a walk around Temple Bar in torrential rain. As always, he’s armed with his camera. As well as being a professional fighter, he’s also a keen photographer.

Despite that fact that he’ll be competing on the main card of an event that sold out in 60 seconds — in this very city — in just four days’ time, Dalby wanders the streets of Dublin unrecognised, which is perhaps an indication of the fact that, for the most part, Ireland’s interest in MMA hasn’t quite extended beyond its own UFC representatives just yet.

Bridge Nicolas Dalby at Samuel Beckett Bridge. Source: The42.ie

Photography is one of Dalby’s many interests outside of mixed martial arts. Followers of his online presence will know that while his career is in MMA and he’s “finally making some good money from fighting” since he joined the UFC, Dalby’s life is not entirely consumed by the sport. You’re as likely to find pictures of music festivals and landscapes as something MMA-related on his social media.

“I’ve always had many interests, doing a lot of different sports and other stuff,” he says. “When I was 15, 16, 17, I did acting classes as well and was in some plays. I did karate, mountain biking, all sorts of stuff. I’ve always had many things to do. I don’t know, I just feel like fighting is fun, but my body will burn down if I train 24/7. I just find pleasure in having other outlets as well; going out to a concert, taking some pictures, being creative that way.

“I love training for fights but I also like to have fun by doing something else. Maybe it’s a way of clearing my mind. I reset by doing something else. If I’m obsessing over MMA every minute of every day, it’ll become too much and I’ll get stuck in that mindset.”

Screen Shot 2015-10-21 at 15.09.23 Source: Instagram.com/DalbyMMA

But don’t mistake his ability to detach his career from his other interests as evidence of a man who isn’t determined to reach the top of his sport. He may not be as vocal as some of his peers in interviews about his long-term intentions, but the 30-year-old is no less motivated to continue his progression.

Dalby: “The thing is, ever since my first fight I’ve always taken it one fight at a time. I won’t go out screaming that I want to fight for the title within the next two years or anything like that, because a lot of stuff can happen in two years. I’d much rather focus all my energy on the task at hand and then see what comes after that.

“Every fight is a crossroads. If I win, that sets up one path of opportunity. If I lose, it sets up another path. Maybe they overlap if I lose but it turns out to be an exciting fight, which could still propel me forward anyway. But on the other hand, if I win a boring fight, that could set me back. So I just focus on the next fight and then see what’s ahead of me from there.”

11.00pm

Training Source: The42.ie

Back at the Gibson Hotel, Dalby and Tue Trnka head for the workout room, where UFC Dublin headliner Dustin Poirier is also finishing a session. The hard work has been done by now for Dalby. Sparring ended on Saturday and his last hard cardio session was on Monday evening. Now it’s all about keeping his body fresh and loose with some light padwork and jiu-jitsu, before winding down at the end of his first day in Dublin.

“I was rushed into all the UFC obligations when I got here; signing posters, doing the medicals, all that stuff. So it was nice to take a breather, get some good food and see some of the city. It’s my first time in Ireland and I’m enjoying it here. Dublin is a nice city. It feels a bit like Copenhagen, with the river going through the city and the canals.”

Wednesday and Thursday morning will bring some more media duties, before the weight cut begins in earnest and he steps on the scales on Friday afternoon. When those obligations are out of the way, it’ll be time for the most enjoyable part of the job on Saturday.

Screen Shot 2015-10-21 at 15.35.47 Source: Dolly Clew

Nicolas Dalby will be aiming to maintain his own undefeated record at the 3Arena, while simultaneously putting the first blemish on Darren Till’s. If he’s successful, the win will represent a significant statement of his intentions in the welterweight division.

Nevertheless, Dalby’s outlook for the future won’t change. His one-fight-at-a-time approach has taken him all the way to a main-card slot for the world’s biggest organisation, so he’s not about to abandon that now.

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Paul Dollery

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